In a year’s time current high school seniors will have been striding through autumn leaves for two months at the college of their dreams, whether first, second, third or fourth choice. I think of them wistfully, nostalgically in thoughts of my own college days. But for now the question for the next batch of frosh is where to go. It’s crunch time for high school seniors.
Though my college years are ancient history, I marvel frequently at the differences then and now. For me there simply was no question where I would go to college; oh, for awhile I idly wondered what it would be like to follow a girl friend to Bethany College. But I was destined to be an Ohio Stater like my entire family before me and that was really fine with me. And I would pledge a fraternity, too. I was destined be a Buckeye and a Beta, kicking leaves while crossing The Oval to the chimes of Orton Hall. Ohio State was just too enticing for a kid from a village of five hundred.
Out of curiosity and for the purposes of blogging, I have been researching a little. One writer makes a lot of sense to me. He says the greatest waste of money is spending exorbitant tuition and housing money just to get a silly degree. By that he means a major in women’s studies, sociology or medieval German. (To show you how relative this judgment is, I have never regarded my two majors of international studies and English as silly. My father had other opinions.) Some folks, the writer says, are coughing up $200,000 for this sound, quality start on a glowing career from inflated base camp — Boston. If the individual has a million-dollar trust fund, here is a good choice. The more sensible and just as effective decision would be grabbing the street car across town to the local, public institution. For such a degree the writer maintains, any old place will work. Go cheap, get a taste of college and then get serious.
Other than the expectation that I would uphold and advance the family’s upper, middle class station in America, my parents did not hover over me. Oh, I knew they worried about my interest in liberal arts because they knew that I had always had “nice things and trips” and would want at least those amenities to continue. They worried about my opposition to “materialism” or whatever I thought it was and my desire to “do something for others.” Our family had never produced a minister, social worker, professor, diplomat or career public school teacher. We have been industrialists, engineers, business people and lawyers. Nothing made my parents happier than the day I left for U. S. Naval Officer Candidate School. It was my choice and my decision. It seemed the perfect solution for me at the time. They were thinking long range and I was thinking adventure. To them I was set. I was seeing the Pacific for the first time. In my high school yearbook it was prophesiedthat I would be a history professor at Ohio State. I must have said that to someone.
Because I was “second generation college” the assumption was that I knew the purpose of a university and higher education. I loved learning, even more than football (and that was to be an individual at Ohio State). I loved university life so much I wanted it to go on forever in an endless sequence of majoring in everything. That’s not the purpose of a university. I didn’t think international studies was silly at the time. I was interested in globe trotting. Naval life was the first trot.
Frankly, I don’t know how I could have been more earnest than I was at the time. I roomed with two geniuses and that was a good influence, but I was intimidated by their minds: both Phi Beta Kappas and Wilson candidates. I knew I wasn’t that “smart.” So, I did what made sense at the time.
And that’s where kids are in their twenties — doing what makes sense at the time. I do not think any helicopter parent can change this. So what I might say to any twenty-something or high school senior is this: “You don’t know how self-defining experience is yet. You do know what pleases you more than something else. You don’t know how experience will change your perspectives. The plodding old tortoise does. The necessary in your life will change with living, especially if you are living to make life meaningful. Most likely you don’t know what meaningful is and no one can tell you; if someone could tell you, it wouldn’t be your discovery. Only your discoveries will stick. Meaningfulness shifts and changes. Pragmatism in many ways is a gift from the gods, but it can be learned.
About the materialism thing. Be careful what you jettison. I mean, regardless of how creative or altruistic, you may be, you will still have car payments, rent and/or mortgage payments, grocery bills and on and on. The material amounts to a lot in survival. Most of what we must do is either physical and material. Now, if your minimal acceptable standards require a Volkswagen Passat, a decent wine with dinner, a vacation every now and then, athletic and or concert tickets, then to that degree YOU ARE A MATERIALIST. You are going to be busy. You cannot shake it off. Deal with that to which you have grown accustomed — likely the incontrovertible gift of your parents. No one, except Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the starving artist escapes materialism — especially in America. Having good things is part of American culture — with which the smart citizen never trifles. It’s the law.
Steadfast and cautious,